‘Pretty grim’: Windsor auto workers facing 1,500 job cuts

Workers at a Windsor, Ont., automotive plant are “reeling” after Fiat Chrysler announced they would cut a third shift in the fall.

The move would impact 1,500 jobs or about 25 per cent of the workforce. As workers clocked in and out at the plant Friday morning, they told CTV News that the mood inside was “pretty grim.”

“It’s very devastating news,” said Linda Platt. “We’re worried. But I have a lot of faith in our union. We need to stick together and stay strong. I believe they’ll do the best for us.”

Scott Atkinson, who has spent 25 years at the plant, said there had been a lot of talk among workers about declining sales of the minivans manufactured there.

“The writing was kind of on the wall,” he said, calling his coworkers a “family of one.” “As silly as that may sound it really is a tight-knit group. We’re kind of reeling right now,” he said.

Chrysler announced that retirement packages will be offered to eligible employees and they will make an effort to place laid off workers in open full-time positions. The company has given the Unifor union six months’ notice before the change takes effect.

Some workers are hopeful that a new product could be introduced at the plant to save jobs. An electric vehicle called the Chrysler Portal, planned to go into production in 2020, could be built with similar infrastructure that is at the Windsor plant. “It’s got to be built somewhere,” said worker Atkinson. “Let’s hope a new vehicle comes down the pipeline and this can be avoided.”

The company announced that the cuts will come to “better align production with global demand” as sales decline for the Chrysler Pacifica, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid and the Dodge Grand Caravan. Worker Rod Drouillard, who has been at the plant for 27 years, said SUVs have overtaken minivans in popularity.

“With the minivan, the baby boomers have them. The kids coming in behind them don’t want the minivans. It’s an SUV market,” he said.

The union knew that sales were “softening,” said UNIFOR President Jerry Dias on CTV News Channel Friday. But the move by Chrysler came as a shock.

“This is pretty drastic,” he said, adding that conversations with Chrysler had been positive even up until last week. “There was no indication that they were going to do something this dramatic.”

The company had “always talked about” adding another vehicle to the production line at the Windsor plant to deal with declining sales, he said. In 2015, the plant underwent $2-billion in upgrades to start building the Chrysler Pacifica. The upgrades installed give the plant “a lot of options” for what it can produce beyond the minivans, said Dias.

The move is likely to affect more than the 1,500 jobs in Windsor, he said, noting that a number of “feeder plants” will be impacted too. “Every one job in the auto industry is about eight or nine spin-off jobs,” he said. “This is going to have a dramatic impact on the Windsor economy. Not just the Windsor economy, but the Ontario economy.”

In a statement Friday, Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, said he was “disappointed” by the news.

“My immediate thoughts are with the affected employees, their families and the community of Windsor,” said Bains. “Despite this bad news resulting from a decline in global demand, Canada’s auto sector remains strong. With our advanced tech ecosystem, unrivaled market access and highly integrated North American supply chain, our highly skilled auto workers are uniquely positioned to design and build the cars of today and tomorrow.”

Please read my statement on the announcement concerning the Fiat-Chrysler Automotive plant in Windsor:Veuillez lire ma déclaration sur la nouvelle concernant l’usine de Fiat-Chrysler Automotive à Windsor: pic.twitter.com/3usxwhuuSv

— Navdeep Bains (@NavdeepSBains) March 29, 2019

I’m heading to Windsor tmw to stand with our workers & auto industry. Terrible news but our govt will always have our workers’ back.J’irai à Windsor demain pour appuyer nos travailleurs et notre secteur auto. C’est une terrible nouvelle, mais nous serons toujours là pour eux.

— Navdeep Bains (@NavdeepSBains) March 29, 2019

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